For the week ending 2 March 2013 / 19 Adar I 5773

The Perfect G-d

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: David

Dear Rabbi,

We are told that G-d is perfect. How do we know that? If G-d is perfect, then how did He create an imperfect world? Rather, since His creations are imperfect, doesn't that show that He is imperfect?

Dear David,

This is a great question! It is one of the things that Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, the renowned author of the classic work of Jewish thought, "The Way of G-d" says we must believe and know. Belief is something we are told is true. But how can we know that G-d is perfect?

Since nothing comes from nothing, “Existence” points to a Creator, just as the existence of a table or watch points to the existence of a carpenter or watchmaker. This Creator is G-d who created Existence.

It follows that while Existence is dependent on G-d, G-d is not bound by Existence. G-d is greater than, or outside of, Creation. This means that while Creation is finite, the Creator, being outside of place and time, is infinite.

Being infinite, G-d is by definition not lacking in any way. He is therefore omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. These “omni’s”, and any other conceivable ones are expressions or manifestations of His perfection.

Also, since G-d is infinite, He has no beginning or end. He always was, is and will be. G-d must therefore be void of any deficiency, since this would preclude His being eternal. Since G-d's infinity includes His being eternal, He must therefore be perfect.

So why then are the world and G-d's creations imperfect?

This is the underlying question posed by the wicked Roman procurator Turnus Rufus to Rabbi Akiva who challenged, "If G-d is perfect, why do you circumcise?" (Midrash Tanchuma Tazria 5). The implication, of course, is that since you circumcise, either G-d's creation, and by extension G-d Himself, is imperfect; or the natural state is perfect and you are wrong to circumcise.

Rabbi Akiva, in notorious Jewish fashion, retorted by answering with a rhetorical question: "Which is more perfect, wheat kernels or baked delicacies?" Obviously baked goods are more elevated and desirable. But what was Rabbi Akiva getting at?

He intended to communicate to Turnus Rufus that G-d intentionally created the world in an "imperfect" state in order that, through perfecting it and ourselves, humans may become partners with G-d in the act of Creation. And through perfecting Creation we become its crowing glory, thereby realizing the purpose for which all was created.

With this in mind, it should be clear that G-d's having created a "perfect" world would have been static, unrewarding and therefore imperfect; whereas an "imperfect" world which enables man to perfect it and himself, and to deserve the reward for doing so, is the ultimate expression of His infinite perfection.

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